Kicks and Licks – What I learned from David Carradine
An account by Sifu Rupert Harvey (Founder of the Golden Harmony Kung Fu Club in Toronto, Canada, Certified instructor under Sifu Rob Moses in Tai Chi Praying Mantis and Tai Shan Mantis, Shaolin Chin- na under Master Mike Vendrell) of his time spent working as a stunt performer on the Kung-Fu The Legend Continues series.
Studying with Sifu Rob Moses (David Carradine’s personal trainer) and Sifu Mike Vendrell.
Sifu Harvey also speaks of his encounters with the legendary David Carradine, on a professional and personal level.
I met Rob Moses at a Kung-Fu banquet in Toronto China Town in 1992. At the time I was studying with Grand Master Mo Chow and his son Sifu Ian Chow.
It just happened that Rob Moses and Mike Vendrell were seated at our table. After a great dinner and amazing conversations about the martial arts, they both invited me to drop by the set of Kung-Fu The Legend Continues. I was always interested in learning the Praying Mantis style, and asked Sifu Moses if he would accept me as a student. A small group and myself began to train with Sifu Rob and Sifu Mike Vendrell at a set location in China Town the very next week.
Mike Vendrell was the stunt coordinator and he invited me to drop by the set and he’d see if he could get me some work doing special skills or stunts.
On my very first gig I got to meet David Carradine. He had always been a life long hero and had inspired me as well as an entire generation with the original Kung Fu Series.
David approached me, extending his hand, and said “Hi, I am David.” As soon as I extended my hand to shake his, he threw a crescent kick towards my head! I ducked the kick and the other stunt guy standing beside me (Manuel Marquez) blocked David’s kick with a palm technique. David said, “Very good, grass hopper.” He smiled and walked away.
I was thinking what the heck was that all about. All the stunt guys had a good laugh and Manuel said you have to stay sharp around David.
I found that David had a sparkle in his eyes and a child-like smile. He was always entertaining. If there was a piano on set he would play with professional ease. He also had a great voice and sometimes he would also do magic tricks and amaze his audience with his skills. He was a consumate entertainer.
David opened up his house to us as a training base on Sundays while the rest of the time we were training on a rooftop 25 floors up. It was like a mini Shaolin Temple with martial artists from several styles sharing techniques (mostly guys from the show) with some dudes doing there own thing and a main group working with Sifu Moses.
We developed many traditions on that roof, including walking a one hundred yard long pipe that was suspended about a yard off the ground. If someone wanted to join in the training they would have to walk the length of the pipe without falling. I saw a lot guys fall and get busted up.
The wind was always blowing like crazy, and the Canadian winters did not help either. Oftentimes it was 30 degrees below zero and the pipe was covered in ice, but the rule still applied. We were bundled up in all the gear that we could find, but we never cancelled a class because of weather conditions. We would go on field trips and train in strange places like Snake Island. We always used the natural elements in our environment like trees for forearm conditioning, or throwing and catching logs on the back of the forearms.
I even remember doing iron palm training in an underground parking lot in the winter. It was not nice on the hands but Sifu Moses always had lots of dit da jow to take care of us.
Each practitioner got to specialize in what suited him best; some guys were good with open hand forms and applications others excelled at weapons.
We trained for several years during the filming of the show and some of us continued to train with Sifu Rob Moses after the final season had wrapped.
When David visited Toronto a couple of years ago, he contacted me and I had a great chance to spend some time with him when he was not totally busy on a movie or TV shoot.
I met with David and a couple of friends (Peter Carey and Dan Couto) for dinner and a few drinks,
I got a chance to ask him some questions about the original Kung Fu series that had always been for me unanswered.
I wanted to know how much background he had in the arts when he did the first Kung Fu show. He explained that he had no prior training and basically learned as he went; he felt it was not good enough and decided to become a true student of Shaolin Kung-Fu.
He said “I packed up my stuff, jumped into my Ferrari and showed up at Grand Master Kam Yuen’s school. That is where I started to learn about real Kung Fu. I was ready to do anything to gain knowledge including sweeping the floors and basically living at the school full time.” Rob Moses was a senior student of Master Kam Yuen and became David’s personal instructor.
As we were sitting and having a few drinks and listening to David intently, he would throw some punches and even kicks while sitting at the table as he was recalling his experience at Shaolin West.
We had some good laughs and it was great to get such deep insight as to the happenings of those days.
The next day we met for dinner. After dinning and chatting, David invited me back to his suite for a jam session. He brought out this ancient-looking guitar; however when I played it I was amazed at the beautiful tone. “It was smashed in a hundred pieces, I found all the pieces and glued it back together,” said David.
After playing a few songs for him I handed him the guitar. He said “Let me play something for you that represents my life experiences. To this day I can’t recall the name of the song but it was the most heart wrenching and touching song I ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes. He exposed his most intimate and personal journey as an entertainer who was always on the move, having to make many sacrifices, including personal relationships.
We jammed for a couple of hours and talked about his love for music and he played some stuff that he had recently recorded that sounded really great.
I left feeling that this was one of the best days of my life, growing up and admiring someone that I never thought in a thousand years I would ever have the opportunity to meet, much less to share such a special moment together.
I will never forget the last thing David said to me after having a shot of dit da jow which he treasured very much. He looked at me with that familiar sparkle in his eyes and said, “Rupert, I have been through many battles and I am unbreakable.”
I as well as all the people of the world will surely miss him, and in my mind David will always be unbreakable.